Seek out snow monkeys, wildebeest and wolves this January – here's where to find the world's best wildlife encounters
Best for: Noisy penguins
It’s balmy high summer on the White Continent this month – a sizzling 2°C, with non-stop days, thanks to the midnight sun. All this gives rise to a peak in wildlife, specifically penguins. January is when the rookeries are at their most raucous as chicks – emperors, Adélies, chinstraps and gentoos – begin to hatch.
You might spot emperors concealing their little ’uns inside their belly pouches. Or spy a creche waiting impatiently for food; it’s not unusual to see chicks on a feeding chase, running after any old adult that’s carrying a fish supper.
Penguins, Antarctica (Shutterstock)
There’s plenty of other wildlife too – baby seals and birds such as skuas and snow petrels. January is also when whale sightings start to pick up (peaking in February-March): look for signs of orca, sperm, humpback, fin and blue.
If you opt for a later trip, Feb-Mar also brings fur seals, as well as moulting penguin chicks making their first breaks for the sea. Conversely, visit November- December to see a range of birds – from penguins to albatross – performing their mating rituals.
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Best for: Wolves in snow
Brrrrr! It’s chilly in Wyoming in January-February. But all the winter white powder makes Yellowstone’s wolves much easier to spot: their grey fur stands out against the blank sparkle while their paw-prints leave a handy trail in the snow.
Wolf in Yellowstone (Shutterstock)
Also, other animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep – congregate for warmth at the park’s steamy thermal features.
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Best for: Masses of macaws
This national reserve in southern Peru boasts some of the planet’s most biodiverse rainforest, home to 670 species of birds. Some of these, including six species of macaw, have a liking for licking clay (a natural neutraliser of plant toxins), and gather in great numbers at Tambopata’s chuncho and Colorado colpas – two of the world’s largest claylicks.
Macaws, Peru (Shutterstock)
December-January, when the local food supply is highest, sees peak numbers of these splendid birds nibbling the clay. Note, it is wet season, so bring a brolly.
Conservation volunteering in the Peruvian Amazon
Best for: Calving wildebeest
The northerly river-cavorting of the Great Migration usually steals the headlines (in August) but equally impressive is this gathering of the million-strong ungulate herds in the southern Serengeti, from January to March.
Wildebeest calves (Shutterstock)
Feeding on the nutritious short grasses, untold numbers of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle give birth here en masse, attracting a host of hungry predators.
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Best for: Snow monkeys in snow
The Japanese macaques of Jigokudani Monkey Park are best seen in the snow – hence why they call them snow monkeys. They live in the park year-round, but are more likely to dip in the thermal hot springs in the coldest months of January and February. More photogenic, too.
Snow monkeys, Japan (Shutterstock)
Main image: Snow monkeys, Japan (Shutterstock)
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